Notre Dame, Ind. -- It only seems appropriate that Sara Grantham attends Ole Miss. After all, she really is a rebel by the bomb-and-gauge standards that have by now come into vogue.
The pesky Grantham, who admits that she is 5 feet tall on a good day has a game that is seemingly a perfect fit for a USGA setup, with its narrow fairways and gnarly, thick grass through the green. She keeps proving the value of hitting fairways and greens over and over and over again. The latest piece of evidence: a gritty 1-up victory over USA Curtis Cup Team member Cydney Clanton in the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links quarterfinals on Friday at the Warren Golf Course at Notre Dame.
With her opponents routinely outdriving her off the tee and hitting two or three clubs less into greens, Grantham, the owner of a slow and syrupy swing, relies on strategy over stealth as she adroitly plots her way around the course. It’s not hard to locate Grantham: just follow the sprinkler heads from the middle of the fairway right to the putting surface. It’s the same route that wins big in national championships.
I hit it very straight and hit a lot of fairways and greens, Grantham says. It’s very helpful in a USGA setup with high rough.
Grantham has proven there’s no measure for such enviable and valuable characteristics. Her three matches have all come to the 18th hole and she’s triumphed in each of them by steadily grinding out pars. In a tangy Southeastern Conference (SEC) duel against Clanton, a rising senior at Auburn, Grantham answered a two-hole deficit by playing consistently and capitalizing on some wayward shots by her opponent. Before anyone knew it, she was 1-up following a terrific up-and-down from 50 feet short of the game at No. 12.
It only seemed appropriate that a springy little Pekingese was seen making its rounds during the match, because that’s what Grantham does; once she grabs hold of an opponent , she’s not going to let go. Not even after Clanton had hopes of running away with the match after winning Nos. 13 and 14 to take a 1-up lead would Grantham relent.
At 15, Grantham appeared likely to lose a third straight hole, but made a gutsy par, knocking in a 12-footer to square the encounter. Grantham appeared to use the momentum of that putt to take hold of the match.
I thought that [par putt] was huge, Grantham said. That’s really when I got into gear and I wanted to finish these last three holes. It was a little bit of a déjà vu coming into the last three holes. I knew what I needed to do and tried to get it done the best I could.
Grantham won 16 after her opponent drove it left, Clanton responded with a victory of her own one hole later. Characteristically playing the shot the hole demands at the par-4 finishing hole, Grantham found the left portion of the fairway. After Clanton missed the short grass with her tee shot and pulled her approach left at the par-4 finishing hole, Grantham calmly two-putted for par from 40 feet to advance; Clanton’s putt for a halve grazed the top edge of the cup.
The underdog role against Clanton, who keeps building a national resume and was the 16th-seeded player from stroke-play qualifying, is not only one Grantham knew of, but unmistakably embraced.
I guess that I kind of fly under the radar, she says, but I like it that way. It’s to my advantage.
That’s because all her life, she’s likely heard the whispers and been told, too many times, it seems, ‘Oh, she’s too … something’. Grantham, who missed one or two fairways the whole way against the powerful Clanton, has an immediate and thoughtful response: improve thyself.
No matter what I do, it’s not going to change and I have to become better and more accurate than [opponents] are with a 6- or 7-iron, Grantham says. It just goes to show that it’s really about who hits more fairways and greens and how close you hit it – no matter what club you have in.
The usually unshakable Grantham credits her father and caddie, Jay, with being her No. 1 fan during the changing dynamics of a match-play environment. These days, it’s hard to tell who’s enjoying the experience more.
She was a huge underdog today and I know that Cydney probably didn’t play her best game, but it was a really big win. This is a lot of fun, he says.
It’s been a sometimes long but intensely enjoyable journey for Grantham. She began tagging along with her dad to the course on weekends and immediately got hooked on the game. Grantham eventually led Baylor High to four consecutive state titles before earning a golf scholarship to Ole Miss.
After struggling as a newcomer, for the first time in her life, the Wilsonville, Ala., resident thought she was at a standstill with her game, so Grantham immediately began the process of retooling her swing with the help of Birmingham-based instructor Hank Johnson.
Dedicating herself to the improvement process as passionately and intently as she does to all other areas of her life, Grantham rebuilt her swing out of the dirt and rept the reward. She won the Alabama Women’s Amateur in 2008 and advanced to match play at last year’s WAPL and the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
Grantham, who has used up her golf eligibility and has one semester of classes remaining, plans to stay connected to the game and pursue a career as a teaching professional. There’s no doubt she has many important lessons to share.
With the names of the doubters she has proven wrong likely emblazoned in her conscience, she’ll temporarily seek the comfort of the fishing pond in her backyard, where she caught an 8-pound bass that she proudly displays on her phone.
That’s my biggest catch of the summer, she smiles.
And three wins at the WAPL aren’t a bad complement to life’s tacklebox.
Andrew Blair is the communications director for the Virginia State Golf Association. He is contributing articles at this week's WAPL for the USGA.